I had the pleasure this week of working with Jamie Wittig from Cielo Vista Charter Elementary school to explore how project-based learning might look in a Kindergarten classroom. While I have been leading ProjectLearn Academies which focus on implementing project-based learning with technology for over ten years, each workshop is unique because discussions during the process about how to address a particular subject/topic, grade level, culture, or site needs.
As I was preparing for this workshop, I was scouring my files for not only great examples of project-based learning done with a primary grade tool like Pixie, but also great examples of what authentic tasks, essential questions, and big ideas looked like at the Kindergarten level. I found that most of my examples focused on upper elementary and secondary.
This got me thinking: Which age is the best for project-based learning?
Students at a high school level have thinking skills that are capable of complex, ill-structured problems and I find that they often come up with the best questions when they are being the most contrary. If an authentic task should tackle something in the "real" world, these students are also closest to it. Some are ready to graduate, some already take care of the rest of their families, some even have almost full-time jobs. As educators, we also assume these students are more capable of managing a project, deadlines, teams, and complexity.
Students at a middle school level tend to be highly idealistic. If provided with a great authentic task, many of them simply can resist the hook and go above and beyond time and effort expectations to really prove they have reached adulthood. These students are growing cognitively, but often aren't asked to really apply their skills and show off their expertise.
In many elementary classrooms, one teacher is responsible for teaching multiple subjects or at least participate on a team that works together. This makes scheduling the extra time and overlapping disciplines easier. Because students aren't segmented into different classes for each subject they are often more easily able to think across disciplines as well. Elementary students also love to play and this leads to increased willingness to try new things and take risks.
But what about primary students? Can we expect kids to think at a high-level to solve real world problems? As I was looking through my notes, I definitely found that the best projects still centered-around or related to things that students knew (leaders=principals, heroes=family members).
But then when I really started thinking about it, while we do build academic foundations in Kindergarten, so much of what we also cover are life skills - how to wait in line, how to take care of myself and my property, how to treat others, what I can expect from others, and that I should expect different things from different people depending on what I know about their jobs, etc. The "soft skills" (a misnomer in my mind) that are taught along with academic skills during the pbl process).
And no matter what age you are implementing project-based learning or which you think is the best age, remember, "it is best to hold hands and stick together." (Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten)
Enjoy your PBL journey!